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harangatang
02-13-2006, 04:27 PM
http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article_perspectives.jsp?ymd=20060209&content_id=1309078&vkey=perspectives&fext=.jsp

In each of the last two seasons, the National League Central has produced the team with the best record in baseball -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- and the NL Wild Card team -- the Houston Astros. There won't be a major decline in this division in 2006. In fact, there should be better overall balance.

What makes this division so compelling, apart from the presence of the Cardinals and the improvements of other clubs, is one elemental factor: This remains the only division in baseball with five teams that should have better than average pitching. Of course, it is also the only six-team division in baseball, but the most basic part of the game is covered with the vast majority of this group.

The favorite

Cardinals
They won 205 games over the last two seasons and if some slippage can be seen, there is little reason to suspect that the Cards are entering a major decline. Some major talent has departed -- for instance, Matt Morris in the rotation, Mark Grudzielanek at second and Larry Walker in right. The bullpen will have several new faces, also. But four strong starters return, headed by Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter. And the core of this team's potent lineup is back, probably bolstered even further by the return of a healthy Scott Rolen. And they still have the consummate grinder, Tony LaRussa, at the helm.

Projected regular-season finish: NL Central champions

Biggest Spring Training challenge: The Cards have to identify a solid fifth starter, whether it is Sidney Ponson or the extremely promising Anthony Reyes. And they have to sort out the crowd at second base.

Best position battle: It's second base ... again. There are numerous likely candidates, but it would be beneficial if one would emerge head and shoulders above the rest. Junior Spivey, Aaron Miles, Hector Luna and Deivi Cruz could all be in the mix. Spivey offers the most, if he can remain healthy.

Wild card: Conventional wisdom says that injuries can devastate a team. Guess what? The Cardinals had a wave of injuries last year and they weren't at all devastated. That's because people like So Taguchi and Luna came up very big. If the Cardinals' bench players have to become semi-regulars again, off last year's performances, the problem will look more like a solution.

More: Spring Training preview | Quick hits | Spring schedule and tickets

The challengers

Astros
There are some major uncertainties as Spring Training approaches. Will Roger Clemens return? What will happen with Jeff Bagwell and the team's insurance claim for $15.6 million of his $17 million salary? Can he still play? Will the Astros have to pay?

This is a bit messy for a contending team coming off a World Series appearance. But this is otherwise a solid club. Rocket or not, it has two of the best starters in the business, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte, and a deep bullpen. Plus, in two straight seasons, this club has overcome dismal starts to reach the postseason. There is something to be said for knowing that when adversity comes, you will find a way to deal with it. Manager Phil Garner has been able to locate and bring out this best in this roster.

Projected regular-season finish: Second place

Biggest Spring Training challenge: There is no overstating the importance of these issues. They have to find out if Bagwell can still play, after basically telling him to go away with the insurance claim. And they have to help Clemens decide to return, even if he can't return to the Astros until May.

Best position battle: This really isn't a battle as much as it is a situation. If Bagwell can't play, then Lance Berkman could go to first base. But if Bagwell can play, the Astros have -- with the acquisition of Preston Wilson -- an outfield surplus. If Berkman is in left, Wilson is in center and Jason Lane is in right, then there is no position for the Astros NL Rookie of the Year runnerup, speedster Willy Taveras. They must also find playing time for the extremely useful Chris Burke.

Wild card: There is a growing expectation that Clemens will return. Even at 43, he was brilliant for the first four months last season. Perhaps an abbreviated season is just the ticket for him now. But what if he doesn't come back? If that occurs, the Astros will require Major League competence and consistency from Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio, both of whom have much more promise than experience.

More: Spring Training preview | Quick hits | Spring schedule and tickets

Brewers
They took the necessary first step last season, ending a streak of 12 losing seasons by finishing .500 and in third place. They are widely acknowledged to have a Minor League system rich in talent. The evidence of that will be seen in three-fourths of the infield this season with first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Rickie Weeks and shortstop J.J. Hardy. And they obtained veteran Corey Koskie for increased stability at third. There is no question that general manager Doug Melvin has done an extraordinary job on a tight budget. And there is no question that manager Ned Yost has instilled pride and a work ethic in this roster. But there are questions about the pitching depth and the future in center field.

Projected regular-season finish: Third place

Biggest Spring Training challenge: They need to find a steady fifth starter. David Bush -- obtained in a trade from Toronto -- and veteran Rick Helling appear to be the leading candidates. They need to find out if reliever Dan Kolb can restore his career, this time as a setup man. And they need to find a way to get super-sub Billy Hall as much playing time as possible.

Best position battle: Center fielder Brady Clark had a solid season as a leadoff hitter in 2005. But there are serious question about whether this club needs a better defensive player in center to take the next step to contending status. Talented Corey Hart is not yet 24, but the Brewers believe he is ready to contribute. He may get a chance to show that he could help in center on a regular basis.

Wild card: In 2005, the Brewers got half-and-half run production from their veteran corner outfielders. Carlos Lee was big in the first half. Geoff Jenkins was big in the second half. But this club's offense could use wholes instead of halves from its major run producers. Weeks, who has magnificent potential, had a difficult second half last season, but it was attributed to a thumb injury. He needs to be fully healthy and headed toward stardom for this club to succeed.

More: Spring Training preview | Quick hits | Spring schedule and tickets

Cubs
Every year, people look at this team and say: "If their pitching stays healthy, they could win it all." And then the pitching doesn't stay healthy. On paper, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior, Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood (returning from shoulder surgery) and Jerome Williams and/or Glendon Rusch, is a top-shelf rotation. The Cubs also bolstered the bullpen in the offseason. They are fine at the infield corners with Derrek Lee coming off a magnificent season and Aramis Ramirez. And they now have a genuine leadoff hitter, and plenty of added speed, with center fielder Juan Pierre. But they have untested players at shortstop (Ronny Cedeno) and in left (Matt Murton). The presumption of good health among the pitchers has been tested, but not with particular success.

Projected regular-season finish: Fourth place

Biggest Spring Training challenge: The Cubs will have to determine early if Cedeno and Murton are the answers. They will also need to patiently nurse Wood along the path to full and productive health. He is not expected to be ready for Opening Day, but this is a case of the sooner, the better for the Cubs.

Best position battles: Who will play second base? Who will bat second? Incumbent second baseman Todd Walker might be the obvious answer, but he also might be headed elsewhere. A happy solution at the second spot in the lineup would be the emergence of either Cedeno or Murton. At second base, Jerry Hairston and Neifi Perez, who was invaluable filling in at short last season, remain as alternatives.

Wild Card: You know the answer to this one. Everyone talks about Prior and Wood, but the Cubs' most dependable starter over the last two seasons has clearly been Zambrano, not only because of his talent, but because he is regularly healthy enough to take the ball. He has started 64 games over the last two years, to 48 for Prior and 32 for Wood. If the rotation stays healthy, this is obviously a contending club. If not, this could be a fifth-place club.

More: Spring Training preview | Quick hits | Spring schedule and tickets

The long shot

Pirates
This was a last-place club in 2005, but it is better than that now. The Pirates have added solid veterans at the infield corners with Sean Casey and Joe Randa, and they have added pop in the outfield with Jeromy Burnitz. Plus, they have one of the most astute baseball men in the business, Jim Tracy, on board as manager. The question will be how far the obviously talented, but in many cases, inexperienced, pitching staff can progress.

Projected regular-season finish: Fifth place

Biggest Spring Training challenge: Rotation, rotation, rotation. Zach Duke and Paul Maholm were terrific in rookie appearances last season. They have to maintain consistency over the long haul, but the real task here may be getting Oliver Perez and Kip Wells back up to their best levels. Both had disappointing seasons last year and their performances helped relegate the Pirates to sixth place. If they come back to form, the Pirates should have the core of a very solid rotation.

Best position battles: It's a new day in the Pittsburgh bullpen with several veterans gone from last season. Mike Gonzalez, undeniably talented but relatively untested, takes over as closer. But how will the rest of the bullpen look? There is no shortage of seemingly reasonable candidates, including Roberto Hernandez, Salomon Torres, Giovanni Carrara, Terry Adams, Scott Strickland and lefties John Grabow, Damaso Marte and C.J. Nitkowski.

Wild card: The Pirates have an improved lineup, but they do not have a lineup with overwhelming power. To make an upward move, they're going to require solid, dependable, conistent pitching, both from the rotation and the bullpen. This is a team headed in the right direction, but the quality of the pitching will determine how rapidly it travels in that direction.

More: Spring Training preview | Quick hits | Spring schedule and tickets

Maybe next year

Reds
This is a remarkably unbalanced club, not emotionally, but between hitting and pitching. The Cincinnati lineup literally frightens the opposition. Last year, there was hitting, and power hitting all over the place -- the Reds led the NL in home runs and runs scored. The emergence of shortstop Felipe Lopez made the lineup even better than anticipated. But the Cincinnati starting staff generally was a source of solace to the opposition last season, the Reds starters posting the NL's worst combined earned run average at 5.29 and leading the league in home runs allowed with 159. The Cincinnati organization is in a transitional phase and better days may well be on the horizon. But unless the Reds' pitching improves, a bunch of 9-7 losses may still be in the immediate future.

Projected regular-season finish: Sixth place

Biggest Spring Training challenge: The rotation improved during the second half of 2005, and finding a way to keep that trend going will be Job One. Manager Jerry Narron and pitching coach Vern Ruhle got some of the credit for strides being taken, so maybe they can keep this operation pointed in a positive direction. Aaron Harang, Brandon Claussen, Eric Milton, Paul Wilson (coming back from shoulder surgery) and Dave Williams (coming from the Pirates) need to have a much faster start this season, individually, collectively, early and often.

Best position battle: Third base will be the classic choice between a veteran, Rich Aurilia, and a promising youngster -- Edwin Encarnacion. The Reds are high on Encarnacion's potential, but he will have to show them he is ready to unseat Aurilia.

Wild card: The Reds should be looking for ways to insert Ryan Freel into the lineup as regularly as possible. Freel played five positions for Cincinnati in 2005, and he played all of them with all-out gusto. He's a gamer, a crowd-pleaser and an inspirational player. There may be more talented players available, but there won't be any who try harder.

More: Spring Training preview | Quick hits | Spring schedule and tickets

You read it here first

1) The Brewers will finish with their first winning season since 1992.

2) Pittsburgh's Tracy will be a legitimate candidate for NL Manager of the Year.

3) Clemens will rejoin the Astros. In many quarters, this team is being written off, again. But those two straight trips deep into the postseason were no accidents. With Rocket not on board at the beginning but eventually returning, the Astros will once again be better in the second half of the season than in the first.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

registerthis
02-13-2006, 04:33 PM
The fact that Encarnacion now is no longer in a "battle" for the third base job, but that the job is Aurilia's TO LOSE, is incompetence at the highest level.

I know that the gross lack of starting pitching is the greatest problem facing this team, but in my mind there isn't a more succinct comment on the dreadful state of the reds than the fact that Encarnacion must now work to "unseat" Aurilia from the third base job.

Completely and utterly ridiculous.

harangatang
02-13-2006, 04:38 PM
The fact that Encarnacion now is no longer in a "battle" for the third base job, but that the job is Aurilia's TO LOSE, is incompetence at the highest level.

I know that the gross lack of starting pitching is the greatest problem facing this team, but in my mind there isn't a more succinct comment on the dreadful state of the reds than the fact that Encarnacion must now work to "unseat" Aurilia from the third base job.

Completely and utterly ridiculous.

Consider this...
Total Games played at third base at Major league level
Rich Aurilia - 47 games at age 35
Edwin Encarnacion - 56 games at age 23

BRM
02-13-2006, 04:47 PM
The fact that Encarnacion now is no longer in a "battle" for the third base job, but that the job is Aurilia's TO LOSE, is incompetence at the highest level.

I know that the gross lack of starting pitching is the greatest problem facing this team, but in my mind there isn't a more succinct comment on the dreadful state of the reds than the fact that Encarnacion must now work to "unseat" Aurilia from the third base job.

Completely and utterly ridiculous.

I'm hoping this is just Mike Bauman's opinion and not the opinion of Krivsky/Narron.

Joseph
02-13-2006, 05:07 PM
Narron's made it pretty clear that EE has to earn it and essentially that all things being equal it's Rich's job.

BRM
02-13-2006, 05:17 PM
Saying that EE has to earn it doesn't necessarily mean that the job is Aurilia's to lose, does it? Does it?

GridironGrace
02-13-2006, 05:29 PM
I've never looked at rankings for anything more then a good read, and a laugh lol.

It's just thier opinion.. Usually its 1 guys opinion sometimes 2 or 3 guys.

No since getting worked up over this. This same guy could have us ranked #1 in MLB if we start 10-0 lol. No biggie.

3B will be Platooned.. watch and see.. Same as 2B, and Catcher

BRM
02-13-2006, 05:34 PM
Even a platoon at 3B is inexcusable.

registerthis
02-13-2006, 05:35 PM
Saying that EE has to earn it doesn't necessarily mean that the job is Aurilia's to lose, does it? Does it?

I think that it does.

Consider: If the job was Encarnacion's to lose, the correct phrase should be "AURILIA has to earn it." By placing the burden on Encarnacion to prove his worth, rather than Aurilia, the implication is quite clear that Aurilia is viewed as the incumbent at the position, and Encarnacion must work to unseat him.

KronoRed
02-13-2006, 05:41 PM
Saying that EE has to earn it doesn't necessarily mean that the job is Aurilia's to lose, does it? Does it?
With a manager who favors experience over results and potential then yes it does

We'll see on opening day.

M2
02-13-2006, 05:51 PM
6th place in MLB is a bit like being the Highlander -- there can be only one.

RedsManRick
02-13-2006, 05:53 PM
This would make me much more upset if I didn't agree with them. That said, I think both the Cards and Astros are overrated. I would not be surprised to see somebody with the Central with about 90 wins this year.

captainmorgan07
02-13-2006, 06:46 PM
i agree RedsManRick both of those 2 teams are overrated and dont' tell me the pirates are gonna be good they've struggled for years and it's basically the same group of guys there pitching staff will get banged up as usual they have success for a small majority of games then they'll lose 10 straight or something

djsauter
02-13-2006, 06:48 PM
I call 3rd place.

alex trevino
02-13-2006, 06:53 PM
sports predictions are always pretty silly...so many things can happen. Having said that it is not far fetched to say the Reds are the worse team in the division, not saying I agree with that, just that it is not outrageous.

MWM
02-13-2006, 07:02 PM
I hate to agree with this, but I do. It will be a battle between the Reds and Pirates for the cellar. The Brewers are a year or two away, but they will win a couple of division titles the rest of this decade.

Gainesville Red
02-13-2006, 07:31 PM
Where did MLB.com have the White Sox finishing last year?

kbrake
02-13-2006, 07:32 PM
I see it going
1. Cards
2. Brewers
3. Astros
4. Cubs
5. Pirates
6. Reds

Sucks to actually say that but at least it looks like things might finally be on the right track for us.

MrCinatit
02-13-2006, 07:43 PM
yeah, i really do hate to admit it, but the cellar is looking like the place the Reds will set up camp this year. especially if we do have Rich battling EE for third - and i am confident Narron will install Womack as the regular 2nd baseman for much of the season.
this year could hurt...but seeing signs the team is moving towards success rather than the previous administration's "Stay the course" attitude.

RedsManRick
02-13-2006, 07:48 PM
For the record - my guess:

Cubs
Cards
Brewers
Astros
Pirates
Reds

westofyou
02-13-2006, 07:49 PM
The race is between who exceed expectations based on recent history, the Reds in the pitching department and the Pirates in the hitting department.

Falls City Beer
02-13-2006, 07:50 PM
but seeing signs the team is moving towards success rather than the previous administration's "Stay the course" attitude.

I'd say that if a GM can't see the patent absurdity of Womack starting more than a handful of games (or heck, even making the opening day roster), then we not only have a current headache, but also we probably don't have much hoping on the horizon either....

westofyou
02-13-2006, 07:53 PM
When I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge:
I don’t want the world, I just want your half

Doc. Scott
02-13-2006, 07:57 PM
Predictions like this are always a year behind. The writer looks at the Reds' 2005 pitching and assumes it will be exactly the same (i.e. historically bad) in 2006.

Which is why so many predictions always look so silly by the All-Star break.

KoryMac5
02-13-2006, 07:57 PM
None of the teams in the Central blow me away. Put them all in a hat and draw them out has a better chance of coming true than mlb.com predictions.

Falls City Beer
02-13-2006, 08:17 PM
Predictions like this are always a year behind. The writer looks at the Reds' 2005 pitching and assumes it will be exactly the same (i.e. historically bad) in 2006.

Which is why so many predictions always look so silly by the All-Star break.

I might agree with you if you were talking about a team that had done anything to improve their pitching.

RFS62
02-13-2006, 08:23 PM
I might agree with you if you were talking about a team that had done anything to improve their pitching.


I have a gut feeling that they will.

I hope Krivsky doesn't get impatient, but I have a real feeling that one of the outfielders will be moved before the trade deadline, and possible much sooner, if the deal is right.

Redmachine2003
02-13-2006, 08:39 PM
The Reds finish 6th that means they will be in the playoffs.:KoolAid: YESSS! Oh you mean the division not the NL.:oops: :help: With this team lets just hope they catch lightening in a bottle.:thisyear:

RFS62
02-13-2006, 08:47 PM
If they don't make any drastic changes to the pitching staff, they'll be fighting the Pirates for the cellar.

Doc. Scott
02-13-2006, 08:59 PM
I might agree with you if you were talking about a team that had done anything to improve their pitching.

Regression to the mean alone should improve them somewhat. Plus, I think a couple of pitchers due for significant roles will actually improve in the classic sense. Everything just went absolutely terrible last year, and chances are that the club simply can't be that unfortunate in 2006.

Make cracks if you will, but what I'm saying will likely turn out to be true, even in spite of you being absolutely right about this offseason.

deltachi8
02-13-2006, 08:59 PM
If they don't make any drastic changes to the pitching staff, they'll be fighting the Pirates for the cellar.

I think you just insulted the Pirates

penantboundreds
02-13-2006, 09:13 PM
just a question.....do we feel like it is the GM's job to say if Aurillia or EE plays, and same for Womack? I think that is why Mike Brown sucked for so long....hire a manager you want and trust him to do the job for you.....if he can't then you hired the wrong guy

Falls City Beer
02-13-2006, 09:28 PM
Regression to the mean alone should improve them somewhat.

I just can't see it being anything other than negligible. And negligible isn't much to talk about. I expect Weathers to get worse, Hammonds to get worse, Mercker to get get worse, White to get worse, Wagner to maybe get better, Coffey maybe. But that's really it. And there's absolutely NO cavalry arriving from the minors. So this team's fortunes ride entirely on a trade to make a real improvement.

Yachtzee
02-13-2006, 10:13 PM
When I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge:
I donít want the world, I just want your half

Kim Ng and I are getting old and we still haven't walked in the glow of each other's majestic presence.

REDREAD
02-13-2006, 10:18 PM
The fact that Encarnacion now is no longer in a "battle" for the third base job, but that the job is Aurilia's TO LOSE, is incompetence at the highest level..

Let's wait until the season starts and see what happens. I'm pretty confident Ed will start the majority of the games at 3b.

REDREAD
02-13-2006, 10:24 PM
I just can't see it being anything other than negligible. And negligible isn't much to talk about. I expect Weathers to get worse, Hammonds to get worse, Mercker to get get worse, White to get worse, Wagner to maybe get better, Coffey maybe. But that's really it. And there's absolutely NO cavalry arriving from the minors. So this team's fortunes ride entirely on a trade to make a real improvement.

I agree. All we've done this winter is basically flip Ortiz for Dave Williams.
That's not going to change the staff much.

And of course, Paul Wilson is a potential millstone, because I'm guessing he gets handed a rotation job if his arm can physically throw the ball (at least for the first 6 weeks). Although I do understand that. It's a lost season, so you might as well take a crapshoot and hope Wilson puts together a decent first half (it's not like there's anyone good to replace him anyhow).

You're right on, the fact that there's no calvary in the minors for probably 3 years is going to make this rebuilding process really tough.

M2
02-13-2006, 10:29 PM
Regression to the mean alone should improve them somewhat.

After the last three seasons the mean is 5.14.

KronoRed
02-13-2006, 11:46 PM
I think you just insulted the Pirates
They have pitching we have O

We could make a great combo team.

marcshoe
02-13-2006, 11:51 PM
I think you just insulted the Pirates

I was listening to the Pirates' radio station last week, and the host said that the Pirates would contend this year, because they had possibly the best pitching in the division (with a few breaks, their starting pitching could be very good; I'll grant that) and clearly the best bullpen in the league (huh? Improved, okay, but the best in the league?).

Seriously. He said that. I'm not making this up.

A caller told him to put down the crack pipe (well, he used other words), that after years of losing, he wasn't about to jump on the bandwagon. The host told him to just wait until spring training. With Randa and Casey and Duffy (?) things would be different this year.


Anyway, it's good to know that the Reds don't have the most deluded fan in the league.

Jpup
02-14-2006, 01:34 AM
I'll wait until the day before the season to make my predictions, but I will say that the Reds won't finish in the cellar.

Raisor
02-14-2006, 06:25 AM
just a question.....do we feel like it is the GM's job to say if Aurillia or EE plays, and same for Womack?


Absolutly, especially when the GM is new and had nothing to do with bringing in any of those guys.

StillFunkyB
02-14-2006, 07:34 AM
I don't understand how the Reds could finish in last. I know the pitching is BAD, but the offense will be the same if not better without Casey's 8000 double plays. I loved SC, but all those DP's were hard to swallow.

The staff is even a smidge better and the Reds win more than they did last year. Depending on the Flubs, the Reds will finish 3rd or 4th.

I also hope that EE takes this challenge in ST and makes people forget that we were even upset that RA was given "the nod" before it started. There is absolutely ZERO reasons for EE not to be the starting 3rd baseman come OD. The only way that RA should be playing 3rd is if EE gets injured or by the end of April he is hitting at Brandon Larson levels. (read under .200)